After doing a ‘Judwaa 2' during Navratri - being both Mahant of Gorakhpur Math and chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and taking care of the Gods and Goddesses in UP - Yogi Adityanath is now in God's own country. Except that his attempt to paint Kerala as a bloody state has not gone down well with many of those residing there. Yogi Adityanath, for obvious reasons seen as representing the UP model of governance, has been trolled heavily on social media by Malayalis who are telling him he has much to learn from Kerala and not the other way around.
The debate in Kerala since Tuesday is taking place at two levels, with the ruling CPI (M) shifting the goalpost to deflect the BJP's aggressive field play. While the BJP that has brought its heavy political artillery to Kannur is playing up the victimhood card by pointing out that it is at the receiving end of CPI (M) violence, the Left party is hitting back by ridiculing Yogi.
The BJP's game plan is political. It succeeded in deciding the 9 pm rundown on most national TV channels on Tuesday with the narrative that BJP-RSS activists were being butchered in Chief Minsiter Pinarayi Vijayan's backyard of Kannur. Statistically, it is true that political violence against CPI (M)'s opponents has seen a spiral since Vijayan came to power in May 2016. In the last 16 months of LDF rule, 5 BJP-RSS workers and 3 CPI (M) activists have been killed in Kannur.
But while the rest of India can be swayed by the victimhood narrative, Kerala knows that Kannur is home to a vicious cycle of scoreboard killings for five decades now. According to the Crime Records Bureau, since 1991, 45 CPI (M) and 44 BJP-RSS workers have been killed, mostly by members from the rival party. Revenge and bloodlust are part of Kannur's violent political culture. Both the CPI (M) and RSS are equally guilty of encouraging hackings and murders as a necessary part of a party worker's CV, with peace meetings bringing a temporary reprieve at best.
While there is no denying that the BJP has every right to raise its voice, its attempt to paint itself as the innocent one is not going down well with many Malayalis. Add to that, the surround sound that makes it seem Kerala is a laboratory of Jehadi terrorism, by focusing on the ISIS influence in Kerala and love jihad citing the Hadiya episode of conversion into Islam as an example.
The ordinary Keralite on the street finds these sweeping labels unjust and harsh. It has provoked a sharp reaction from Malayalis over social media, who are describing the BJP's political tourism with the hashtag #AlavalathiReturns. The Malayalam word `Alavalathi' refers to a troublemaker.
The subtle BJP narrative is to tell the Keralites that progress is possible only with the saffron party and that they had not developed sufficiently because they had invested in the wrong political formations. At least on anecdotal evidence, the backward tag seems to have hurt the Malayali pride. Kerala may not be the number one state for industrial investment but it takes great pride in its tourism potential, social indices like 93 per cent literacy, the state of its health sector, women self-help groups, communal harmony and the power of its remittance economy.
Which is why Yogi has been invited to visit the government hospitals in Kerala, taking time off his padyatra. Using another hashtag #KnappanYogi to specifically target Yogi, the CM is being asked to take lessons from Kerala's healthcare sector to prevent a repeat of Gorakhpur where 60 children died in 72 hours in August. Adityanath has retorted by claiming that UP records lesser number of deaths from dengue and chikungunya than Kerala.
For those unfamiliar with the Malayalam slang, Sir Arthur Rowland Knapp was appointed the Assistant Collector and Magistrate of the Malabar district in the 1920s. His administration soon came to be known as incompetent and over the years, the word `Knappan' became part of the Malayalam vocabulary to denote an inefficient or useless person.
Despite the presence of over 5000 RSS shakhas in Kerala, the BJP has never been a force to reckon with politically in Kerala. It is only in 2016 that it finally opened its account in the Kerala Assembly with one MLA. Utterances by Prime Minister Narendra Modi calling Kerala as Somalia during the election campaign last year have not helped. In a state with a significant minority population - both Muslims and Christians - the BJP's Hindu template is seen as alien to Kerala's composite culture.
But despite all the barbs and the counter barbs, what the BJP's show will succeed in doing is to make it part of the political narrative in Kerala. By making it a CPI (M) vs BJP battle, the plan is to punch above its weight and be seen as an opposition force, gaining at the expense of the Congress.
Views expressed are the author's own.